Dungee enjoys role as go-to scorer

By: ANDREW EPPERSON Special to the NWA Democrat-Gazette
Published: Thursday, January 3, 2019
Arkansas guards Chelsea Dungee (33) and Jailyn Mason (14) celebrate during the closing moments against Nebraska Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2018, during the second half of the Razorbacks' 84-80 win in Bud Walton Arena.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Arkansas guards Chelsea Dungee (33) and Jailyn Mason (14) celebrate during the closing moments against Nebraska Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2018, during the second half of the Razorbacks' 84-80 win in Bud Walton Arena.

FAYETTEVILLE -- Two years ago, Chelsea Dungee's freshman season at Oklahoma ended with a second-round NCAA tournament loss to Washington.

She didn't know then-Huskies coach Mike Neighbors, but she was extremely familiar with star guard Kelsey Plum, the all-time leading scorer in women's college basketball history.

At A Glance

Arkansas women vs. No. 7 Mississippi St.

WHEN 6 p.m.

WHERE Walton Arena, Fayetteville

RECORDS Arkansas 11-3; Mississippi St. 12-1

SERIES Mississippi State leads 19-18

RADIO Razorback Sports Network

TELEVISION SEC Network

PROBABLE STARTING LINEUPS

ARKANSAS

POS. NAME, HT, YR. PPG RPG

G Chelsea Dungee, 5-11, Sr. 17.0 4.6

G Alexis Tolefree, 5-8, Jr. 12.4 3.5

G Malica Monk, 5-5, Sr. 12.9 2.4

G Jailyn Mason, 5-9, Jr. 7.1 3.4

F Kiara Williams, 6-1, Jr. 7.0 8.6

COACH Mike Neighbors (24-21 in second year at Arkansas, 122-62 overall in six years)

MISSISSIPPI STATE

POS. NAME, HT, YR. PPG RPG

G Jazzmun Holmes, 5-8, Sr. 8.7 2.7

G Jordan Danberry, 5-8, Sr. 8.4 4.8

F Anriel Howard, 5-11, Sr. 10.1 4.4

F Chloe Bibby, 6-1, So. 8.6 4.1

C Teaira McCowan, 6-7, Sr. 9.7 7.2

COACH Vic Schaefer (173-54 in seventh year at Mississippi State, 506-221 overall in 21 years)

Team comparison

Arkansas Mississippi State

74.6 Points for 92.6

63.7 Points against 52.1

-2.7 Rebound margin 17.0

+7.4 Turnover margin +9.0

38.6 FG pct. 51.6

30.3 3-pt pct. 38.4

66.1 FT pct. 71.8

CHALK TALK Former Razorback guard Jordan Danberry will make her first appearance at Walton Arena since transferring to Mississippi State. The Conway native played in 36 games for Arkansas before leaving six games into her sophomore season. ... Bulldogs Coach Vic Schaefer served on Arkansas' staff under Gary Blair from 1997-2003.

Fast-forward to 2019, and not only does Dungee know Neighbors, she now plays for him as Neighbors is the Razorbacks' second-year coach, and Dungee is a transfer sophomore.

Dungee is now Arkansas' version of Plum in Neighbors' offense, and a strong performance today against No. 7 Mississippi State in the Southeastern Conference opener at home would verify the sophomore's standing as one of the top players in the SEC.

"I can do pretty much a little bit of everything," Dungee said. "I can beat you off the dribble if you play too close, if you play too far off I can hit a three, and if you play somewhere in between I can make a move and hit a shot off the dribble. That just makes me difficult to guard."

Dungee breezed through the Razorbacks' (11-3) nonconference schedule like a seasoned veteran, averaging 17 points and 4.6 rebounds per contest. Her point total places her at sixth in the conference, and she's what Neighbors calls a "scorer, not just a shooter." The ability to seek out contact and find ways to score even when her shot isn't falling has been paramount to Arkansas' impressive showing to this point in the season.

"People think it's easy to be the primary scorer, but it's hard," Neighbors said. "It's hard to look at every play and see yourself as the number one or two option. That's a lot of pressure, and she handles it really well."

An Oklahoma native, Dungee grew up wanting to play for the Sooners, and she seized the opportunity to do so despite questions from those closest to her, including her high school coach.

"I just wanted her to think about it and make sure it was the right decision, but it was ultimately up to her," said Darlean Calip, who coached Dungee at Sapulpa. "She just had problems with the system there, but she could always score."

Dungee started 18 games for the Sooners, twice leading the team in scoring and putting up 10 double-digit scoring games. She became the eighth player in program history to earn a spot on the Big 12 All-Freshman Team. Despite what appeared to be a blossoming career for her childhood dream school, Dungee knew by January 2017 that she was ready to be the go-to scorer somewhere else.

"Me and Coach Coale just didn't mesh well, and I didn't want to spend four years there," Dungee said. "I didn't really do a great job on my side of seeing where I fit into the program. That's a real systematic offense, and that doesn't work for me. I need a little bit more freedom than that system has."

When Neighbors took the Arkansas job that April, he recognized that he needed someone to be his high-volume scorer of the future, and he remembered the 5-foot-11-inch guard who dropped 16 on his Huskies two weeks prior.

"She played against us, and she played really well against us," Neighbors said. "But I had known her from some of the stuff she did before when she played for USA Basketball and AAU."

Luckily for Neighbors, he was acquainted with Dungee's former AAU coach, and he also worked with Calip when both were assistants at Tulsa. Both spoke highly of him, and after the two finally talked about teaming up, Dungee had an understanding that she'd be the focal point of Neighbors' offense when she became eligible.

"Without saying that, he was kind of giving me some indicators by saying he runs his system through his best player and everybody has roles," Dungee said. "I personally feel that I even had that scoring ability when I was at Oklahoma, but I was never given the opportunity to be in that situation. Now, we space the floor and just play basketball, and it works out really well for me."

Dungee has scored 20-plus points seven times this season, but perhaps what's most impressive is the fact that she rose to the occasion when the Razorbacks played tough opponents. She poured in 20 against Arizona State and Wisconsin, 27 in a road loss to Iowa State and 23 in a close victory over Nebraska.

Still, none of these tests was close to what she'll go up against in SEC play starting tonight. Mississippi State returns many of the players from last year's team that made it all the way to the national championship game and lost on a last-second shot to Notre Dame. The team's starting posts are Teaira McCowan and Anriel Howard, who are the SEC's seventh and ninth-leading scorers, respectively. The former, who looms large at 6-7, also leads the conference in blocks, rebounds and field goal percentage.

"You can only be as prepared as possible until you play them, but we've played well against some of these teams that have a size advantage," Dungee said. "I'm not nervous. I go out with a 'prove a point' mentality. Scoring against Mississippi State or a mid-major is no different to me."

Sports on 01/03/2019

Discussion

Have a comment on this story? Join the discussion or start a new one on the Forums.